Saturday, September 24, 2011


Last night I was invited by a Japanese friend to go to an onsen.  For those who don't know what that is, it's like a public bathhouse, but has natural hot springs.  I went with a very diverse group of girls: my Japanese friend and her father, and 2 exchange students (one from France and the other from Jordan).  My friend's father picked us up at the train station and had to drive us up the mountains to get there.  I was super surprised on the way there; the road was so narrow that I thought it was a one way, but I realized that they had mirrors at each turn to let the drive know when another car was coming!  And when a car was coming, one car would just go to the side a bit and let the other car pass by . . . somehow.  We were on a freakin' mountain, so I was getting a bit scared whenever we turned.  @_@

Once we got there though, it was so beautiful.  The hot spring is a pretty famous one around Nagoya - it's called Sanage Onsen (猿投温泉).  There's a hotel also at the location, but it was way to expensive for us to stay there.  We were surrounded by trees - it really felt like nice to be in that kind of atmosphere.

When we entered through the genkan, there were bags for us to place our shoes in (in traditional places in Japan, there's a special entryway where you take off your shoes, and sometimes there's slippers for you to wear).  After receiving our locker keys and towels, we went into our sex-segregated locker rooms to change out of our clothes and walk - nude - across the locker room into the bath (お風呂).  Even though I have done this before when I went to Japan in high school, it was still a bit embarrassing to be naked in front of my friends.

However, once inside the bath, I didn't feel embarrassed at all, because EVERYONE was naked.  I don't know, the uncomfortable feeling just went away quickly.  We all sat together in a line and began washing our hair and body.  You're not allow to enter the bath without doing that first, to make sure you're all clean.  After all, you're sharing the bath with a bunch of people.  There were a couple different kinds of shampoo and rinse (conditioner) to choose from, and the body wash could be used as a makeup remover as well.  We all lathered up our small tower so we could soap up our bodies really well.  Side note: I noticed A BUNCH of my hair falling out as I was trying to wash my hair and then put it up so I could soap up my neck without getting it in my hair.

So after washing ourselves, we finally stepped into the water.  It felt SUPER NICE - warm, but not too hot.  Although I guess for the other exchange students, it was hard to get used to it at first, but we all quickly exclaimed how nice it felt being in the water.  It took all the stress from the week away.  I'm not sure how long we stayed in there, but it felt like a pretty long time.  There was an outside bath as well, and so after a while we went into there.  Already, after getting up I was feeling a bit dizzy (like I didn't drink enough water), but I still could get up fine and walk up the stairs.

The outside bath was smaller than the one inside, but it was definitely more beautiful.  It was also pretty cool to look up and see some constellations.  However, there was this huge tower right in front of us that sort of ruined view, but mostly we all enjoyed being inside the outside bath.  Us four talked about various things, but everyone else was pretty much silently enjoying their bath.  Some kids would kind of yell and have fun, but it seemed like a lot of people just sat in the bath quietly and enjoyed it by their selves.

So after a while outside, we went back to the inside one and tried out the part of the bath that had water jets.  In summary, was pretty awesome because they weren't too strong - just right.  :)  By then though, everyone was getting dizzy and so we left after almost an hour of being inside the hotsprings.  :)

After leaving the bath, we put on yukatas and took pictures.  Of course, we couldn't take them right inside the locker, but because we were wearing only our yukatas (traditionally, I don't think you wear anything underneath your yukata), we all sat in a small area with chairs.  There, a friendly grandma took our group pictures, and we even got to talk to her a bit (since she traveled a lot, and really liked talking).  So we sat out there for like 30 minutes before changing and then heading down with my friend's father to buy some omiyage (souvenirs) for our host families/dorms.

From there, we then went to my friend's house, where her mom prepared a huge spread of food for us.  Since everyone lived in a host family, I guess they were already used to this kind of food, but it was my first time eating such a spread so I was super happy.  I definitely made sure to enjoy every dish.  It was soooo yummmy!  Definitely better than the food I've been making at the dorm or the food I ate when I went out with friends.  The food didn't even stop there - afterwards the family also shared grapes and ice cream with us.

It may not come to a surprise for some of you, but one small culture shock for us international students is that Japanese peopele don't eat the peels of grapes.  Instead, they pop the grape inside their mouth and (I think) suck on it until all that's left is the peel and seeds.  Then, they spit it out and place it in a bowl.  O_O  I was trying all night to get the technique down.  We tried asking our Japanese friend why they don't eat it, but she didn't know and that she has always done that.  My friend from Jordon ate it whole, and explained that she thinks it's because the peels are a bit bitter.

The family's hospitality was really great though.  The parents gave up their room for the night for the four of us to sleep together, which we were all surprised and like, "No, it's okay!  We can sleep in our friend's and her sister's room!"  But then they said it was okay, and that there's another room (sort of like their traditional room with tatami mats) that they would sleep in.  We were all still amazed at their generosity, to give up their room and lay down a bunch of futons for us.

The next morning, we had breakfast at around 10:30, and then the family took us to a nearby shopping center/mall.  On one of the levels, they had a little market where they were selling food from Hokkaido.  It was a huge, and at each little stand there was something to sample like cheesecake, fish eggs, or ramen.  One could really just have a lunch of samples over there.  After that, the four of us and my Japanese's friends little sister went to Starbucks to do some homework and chill for an hour or 2.  Once we were tired of doing that, we went to almost each level to shop around.  Compared to the prices in Sakae, this shopping mall was way cheaper.  Leggings and stockings were only like $4 a pair, and for 3 it was around $11 (which is way cheaper than in America, right?).  There was also an arcade on one of the floors, where we did purikura (the asian photobooths), which was a blast as well.

I felt so blessed by this family, who was really generous in everything (free trip to the onsen, free food, etc.).  During breakfast, we all even talked about how we wanted to go to Kyoto, so the parents actually started to plan a trip for us!  They brought out pamphlets of famous sites and started to talk when we should leave, and if we should stop by Nara too, etc.  All of us exchange students were just blown away by everything they did for us.  Our gifts to them seem small in comparison to what they gave us.

Japan is really a country of generosity and kindness.  Shop keepers are always super helpful and friendly, no matter what.  Even if the customers ignored their greetings (which is normal here), the shop keepers do their best at their job.  People will wait until they can go by you instead of asking you to move.  Construction workers will acknowledge you when you pass by on the road, lifting their arms to tell you you can walk by.  It's such a hospitable place to live in.  :)  My french friend said it's so different than in big French cities, where everyone is a bit rude and she feels a bit oppressed by it.  I can now see the appeal of living in Japan - the service here is definitely the best!  As a common saying goes, "the customer is god".  Shop keepers and service men are taught to please the customer, even if they're just looking or whatever.

On a different topic: today I played with Japanese sparklers with my dorm mates.  They're different from the American ones - more delicate looking.  Later tonight we also killed a freakin' HUGE spider.  It was definitely bigger than anything I've seen in the states - even at the zoo.  Its' legs were super long - it made it look bigger than my head!  All of us international students were freaking out, but the Japanese students were completely fine.  Apparently, they're used to seeing spiders that big.  >__<  Definitely a big shock, because the Japanese people I know from high school were too scared to step into the reptile exhibit at the zoo, but these Japanese people aren't scared of snakes, lizards, or spiders!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


This morning, a roommate and I went to church.  He was the one who found it and was interested at first to go - the Mustard Seed Church.  Their website was very clear on what they were about and where they were.  We were both really grateful that they had video directions of how to get to the place.  :)

The church is a young plant - I heard it was only a couple years old.  The meet at a dance studio in Tsurumai.  Inside the studio looked like something out of a movie - the studio itself was elevated a bit so you had to step up to it from the entrance way.  Shoes at the entrance way were being scattered a bit from the children running around with the parents.  On the right there was a cubby area to put your bags in, and chairs around the back for people to sit and chat.  In front of the studio was where the band set up their equipment, as well as dividers to block the mirrors (just so the audience didn't have to look at their faces during the sermon).  Two roles of chairs could probably sit about 40 people - the average number of people who show up.  On the left next to the staircase leading up to a small second landing was a vending machine . . . And on the second landing was a small area to sit and eat snacks.

Upon arrival, we were immediately welcomed warmly by various of people.  The church seems to be mainly young American families and Japanese families.  It was really amazing to talk to these people - many of them came to Japan without really studying the language before.  One woman even came - because of an internship with the church - without ever studying Japanese, and had to start right at the beginning at her Japanese language school.  Many of the American families seemed to still be at school, or recent graduate.  I dare say there was no one over 30 or something there (but I'm not the best at guessing people ages).  All the children were still very young - no one over the age of 11 in my opinion.  A couple wives were even pregnant.

It was really nice to talk to them - they all seemed to genuinely wonder who me and my friend were.  We both kept on introducing ourselves to them, explaining that we were both Chinese American or Chinese Canadian students at Nanzan University studying Japanese.  This was also the first time, I think, in Japan that I ever had some mistake me as a Japanese (but not because of my speaking skills).  Many of them, as I said before, came from America, but from what I could tell would probably move to Nagoya permanently. 

The service started late, which is normal for them because they always want to wait until most people come.  The singspiration was absolutely cool - Hillsong translated and gave them song lyrics in Japanese for them.  I was told that that is the reason why they mostly sing Hillsong songs.  Singing with everyone made me very nostalgic for 4C back in Ohio, because besides the fact that people would sing in Japanese and English, it was the same kind of worship as 4C.  Apparently many of the members of the worship team were also really good - two of the Japanese musicians were even professionals or something, one American could play almost every instrument.  During the worship, one of the interns handed me a sheet of paper with today's verses in English and Japanese.

After the singspiration, the main pastor spoke with an interpreter next to him.  His sermon today was about revenge, and he strongly focused on how it's easy to understand that we shouldn't take revenge and turn the other cheek, even help out our enemies when they need it, but it's hard to act on.  He gave many examples of how we take revenge as well, and referred to different Bible verses (without actually mentioning which verses they came from).  The interpreter did a really good job from what I could tell, although there were sometimes that he had a hard time translating (like "hinder" or some kanji).  However, that just made the sermon even more enjoyable.  No one took the mistakes seriously, and it just added to the flavor and the harmonious feeling that I had being there.

After the service, we talked to even more people.  Unlike 4C, this church didn't introduce newcomers, but people immediately came up to us to talk, knowing we were new.  Every person invited us up to eat some snacks, which we eventually did.  In the end, both me and my roommmate had a great time there, and plan on going next week as well.  :)

Even though this church is small, I have a feeling that their fellowship is strong.  They also are very loving and don't mind too much that there are some irregulars.  From what I heard, it's because people can become very busy and cannot always come to service.  However, they didn't explain this with any disapproving tone, which really appealed to me.  I'm really excited to see them next week!

On the side note - went on my first run today.  It was pretty good, but there are a ton of hills around here.  Plus, I went into a neighborhood and ALMOST got lost (I knew where I was generally, but not specifically).  However, after I ran, I felt really good and like I was getting into shape.  That's why I ask that if it's possible, you all also do your best to stay healthy!  Even a small walk around the neighborhood can be really relaxing and let you enjoy where you are.  :)  Plus, for those who are going on a very important walk (like you, mom and Andrea), think of it as training!  ^__^

I also would like to inform you all that I've registered for an introductory course on Japanese sign language through Nanzan University's extension college.  It's really easy - only meets a total of 5 times for about an hour and a half.  Recently, I've been developing an interest in the Japanese deaf community (or deaf community in general).  So, for one of my classes (Fieldwork Research Methods in Japan), my project is on Japanese Sign Language.  Wish me luck that somehow I can do it!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Banks and Odori

Today, I had to go to the post office and the bank - they were probably the most challenging places to try to communicate with Japanese people.  Not that the people were not friendly, but since it was a formal and professional environment, there was even more pressure to perform well.

At the post office, I had to set up a postal savings account, which is how my scholarship (MEXT) would send me my monthly stipend.  While writing out my form, I once again made mistakes.  It may not sound like a big deal, but I heard that filling out forms in Japan can be meticulous because you have to be perfect.  People will have extra copies of a form so just in case they do make a mistake, they can toss it out and start on a new one.  However, I usually only receive one form, and I don't go slow enough to stop myself from making my silly mistakes (like putting my name in the wrong order).  Even though it's a small mistake, I think it's something that I should be able to correct while I'm here.

Also, I don't know my area well, so I decided to take the subway just to go to the next train stop, which isn't all that far.  From there, I couldn't find the right bank to go cash my travelers checks.  A bit tired, I just went into the first bank I saw and lo and behold, they couldn't do traveler checks.  Or at least, not American ones; it was probably a local bank that wasn't used to having foreigners.  The next bank I went to was Mitsubishi (think that's the name), one of the biggest banks I've ever seen.  At both banks, I was immediately assisted, but at this one they actually could do foreign checks.  Communicating with the teller my reason of coming was easy enough, but I'm sure that if I was better at Japanese the process and conversation could've been smoother.  None the less, I'm very thankful that they could help me - my teller was very patient and easily explained each step in the process.

Tonight, I went to see the Nishikawa-ryu Odori Company perform their annual performace of Nagoya Odori.  It's a traditional Japanese dance and theatre that has been held at the same theatre since 1945.  I was supposed to go with a friend, but unfortunately she couldn't come.  While I waited for her though, I did get to observe the lobby area.  Huge barrels of what I think was rice was stacked up like blocks, and a whole bunch of flowers consisting of different types of lilies, orchids and roses bordered the lobby area.  From what I could tell, they were gifts from sponsors or other important companies.  There were also many stalls to buy omiyage (souvenirs people by for their friends, co-workers or family), try out wine or food, buy roasted chestnuts, and a concession stand on each story.  I read on a sign that a 2nd floor ticket is about 3,100 ¥ and a 1st floor ticket over 6,000¥.  O__O  I was completely floored by how many tickets Nanzan University gave out for free to us (30 tickets).  Hearing that made me want to get the most that I could from the performance.

And I'm super glad I went because it was just spectacular!  Every performer's movement was very deliberate, and there was no excess to their actions.  It was what I would say a clean performance.  The company's president also performed a lot - and you could tell that everyone was amazed by his dancing and acting abilities.  I especially noticed that basically the only prop used was a fan, and it would change from being just a fan, to a cup or whatever they needed it to be.  The audience could tell immediately what the fan was just by the way the actors and actresses moved or held it.  Of course, there were other props, especially towards the end where they did a contemporary piece (complete with falling flower petals from the ceiling, and having the performers go into the audience to make them clap their hands).  Overall, I'm super glad I came, even if my friend couldn't come.  Seeing the Nagoya Odori really topped off my night.

Afterwards as I walked back to the station, I took a couple pictures the place I was in (Sakae).  Sakae is basically the entertainment district - the place to have fun.  The train ride to and from were fine, because I checked my train map constantly to make sure I was on the right train and when my stop was coming next.  On the way back I could tell that around 8-9 o'clock is when company workers leave to go home.  Definitely the train was filled with these office workers, all looking super tired from a long day at the company or office.

I leave now, with a note that I now have a prepaid phone!  Calling me is super expensive - I only have 30 minutes of talking time for 2 months, but I have unlimited mail, so I wonder if you can send me mail at:
If not, use my e-mail!


Orientation 2

Thursday, we had an workshop about intercultural communication, and how there can be conflicts and how we could fix it.  It was really interesting to hear other people's opinions - some I have never even thought of.  The professor leading it had an easy way of explaining culture: it's like gravity (things just come together and people are drawn to be a part of a culture no matter what), cotton candy (whatever/whoever it encounters, it sticks to them), and a yardstick (it's....measurable?  I actually didn't understand this one, even though he said it was obvious).  Overall, it's super important to be aware of culture, cultural differences, and to celebrate these differences. 

I learned that making an inkan (a small customized stamp used for banking purposes) for over 100 students takes more than just a day or 2 to do - even though the university said they would be handing them out today so we could open our bank accounts, they couldn't do it in time.  It's okay though - I forgot to get the necessary documents anyways to get it.  :-P

But there were a lot of questions at today's orientation since it was over something really important.  People wanted to know if they could have someone wire money to them (yes), or if a postal savings account, which is needed for some scholarships, instead of a bank savings account would work (no).  A couple others already had an inkan made because they either made one in China, or had been in Japan before.  The advisers also went over some necessary points, such as most of Japan only accepts the original copies of documents.  Overall, a pretty important orientation.

Monday, September 5, 2011


It's been a couple days so far, and the weather has been getting cooler by each day (which is a SUPER relief).  Today was actually clear and sunny!  With the cooler weather though, the number of mosquitoes flying around have increased though.  :-/  I have bites everywhere on my arms and legs - it sucks.

This week I and the other international students here began our orientation.  Yesterday, we took our placement exam.  We first entered the building, after glancing at the seating charts, not knowing at first what they were.  However, once we entered the examination room, I, at least, quickly realized that we had assigned seats according to our student ID number that we did not know.  So, the first couple of minutes I spent trying to figure out where my seat was, and I ended up asking one of the Japanese CJS workers to direct me to my seat.  Everyone had to seat at least one seat away from each other, as expected.

The examination instructions were given in both Japanese and English.  Our exam was very straightforward: a quick 5-6 question part on listening, and then a 4 page multiple choice test followed by a page where you had to read and answer questions about the text.  The whole test was in Japanese, but most of the instructions were written in English as well.  I have to say, I though the multiple choice section went okay, but the reading section killed me.  I gave up after spending around probably 15 minutes trying to decipher it.  Many people, including many who could even attempt the section, stayed until the very end of the time limit to finish.  Most of us though just gave up, maybe answered one or two questions concerning vocabulary, and turned it in.

Today, we received our results.  I would say I'm pleased with mine, and a little intimidated.  Not because of the grammar for my class - I know almost all of what we should know.  The kanji is another story - most of the kanji we are supposed to know, I do not.  >__<  That means I should probably study this week before classes start....and we have to take 2 more tests; one to make sure we were placed in the right level, and another if we want to go up a level.  These tests will determine if we know the grammar and kanji, so . . . need to study!

Around 11:30 orientation usually takes a break for lunch.  For now, we have two choices on where to eat: the cafeteria or convenience store (konbini).  The cafeteria is very simple: just stand in what is usually a long line and order your food after looking through the options posted on top of the cafeteria.  Compare to the konbini, it's more expensive.  However, they serve different types of udon, curry, and soba.

The konbini on the other hand is less expensive, and they too serve a range of items from sandwiches, salads, and zaru soba, but it's cold or at least room temperature.  You have to ask them to heat something up for you - they usually have a microwave - but I have seen anyone do that at the campus location at least.  What's interesting is they also serve 'American' food - things like hamburgers and what looks like a hot dog with a slightly bigger and flatter bun.

The school campus is smaller than my home campus.  However, there is a lot of trees and shrubs everywhere, which isn't what I expected on a Japanese campus.  From what I heard before, the cities where devoid of a lot of vegetation, but obviously that's not the case on my campus.  I also heard from other friends at other schools that they too have a lot trees and shrubs.  It's really refreshing just to walk around the campus, and be surrounded by the old buildings, and see the Japanese students walking around in their sports uniform or just everyday clothing.  Yesterday, during my campus tour, we passed a group of theatre members practicing a religious play.  Although I am a christian and a little fluent in Japanese, I couldn't tell what they were acting at all.  However, the tour guides couldn't help but smile a bit as they walk by, which intrigued me though I didn't press why.

The welcome party was really nice, even though I don't like crowds.  I met a lot of people, both international and Japanese.  It was really interesting to see which international student knew each other, or where from the same area, or even if someone else had something in common!  In a way, I think these little things all connected us somehow more so than the fact we were all Japanese students.

That's my update for now.  I hope that whoever reads these blogs enjoy them some what.  If not, sorry for wasting your time.  In these blogs I try to remain as objective as possible, adding as much details from what I remember.  The purpose of my blog is to make sure I write down my experiences here so I won't forget them later.  Then, I can see if I could analyze what I wrote down and see if there's anything in there I can use for a future paper about my time here.  Very vague, I know, but right now, I'm just enjoying the environment I'm in.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New beginnings

Hi everyone!

My flight to Japan was VERY eventful.  Just want to point out that it was really a surprise when I met Jason and Zoey on the plane, and our seats were even all together!  Also a surprise to see Genevieve on the plane too!

The flight wasn't too bad at all, besides the fact I got a random nosebleed due to the change in air pressure.  ^__^

Once we arrived to Nagoya, it was already dark.  Looking outside, there seems to be a lot of apartment complexes, so I assume the area will be quiet . . . besides that over 100 students live in dorms around here.  :)  As usual, the roads are narrower than the ones in America.

The dormitory I'm staying in is called Nanzan Yamazato Koryu Kaikan.  So far, it seems that only a small group of people have moved in so far - but more are to come tomorrow!  Everyone is really nice and friendly.  We all speak casually (so not what JSL prepares you for).  The Japanese people made us curry for dinner, and we all sat together and talked while we ate.  Lisa and I - the ones who just moved in that night - asked questions about various of things around the house, and Yuka explained our schedule for the next week.  It was a really pleasant atmosphere - everyone was just relaxed and open to getting to know each other.  The other international students living here come from everywhere: Holland, Korea, America . . . Lisa's from France too!  So obviously, language barriers and so Japanese is the one common language here.  English is used too, since everything's either in Japanese or English, but I have a feeling that we won't be using it that much, for obvious reasons.  :-P

I'm living in a single with A LOT  of room.  There's a ton of shelves and drawers for all my stuff.  The closet is huge - bigger than the ones I used in America.  O_O  Crazy, right?  I can fit my suitcase, all my clothes, shoes and the extra blanket I was given all in there - I could probably put everyone I brought in there actually.  ^_^ The hallway and staircase are spacious, and there's 2 baths for each floor to share.  My biggest problem so far was trying to not wet up the common bathroom (basically keeping that clean).  I have my own toilet, which I'm super grateful for!  ^__^

That's it for now.  Typhoons are coming this weekend, so I'll be staying indoors probably a lot.  ^_-